How To Become an Interior Designer

Information Last Verified: August 5, 2021 by Jordan Fabel

Do you love the idea of being an interior designer? Maybe you want to turn this into a full-time career. If so, you need to learn how to become an interior designer.

There are several steps you will need to complete to take on this career. But, first, let’s look at some of the common steps to becoming an interior designer.

Do you love the idea of being an interior designer? Maybe you want to turn this into a full-time career. If so, you need to learn how to become an interior designer. There are several steps you will need to complete to take on this career. But, first, let’s look at some of the common steps to becoming an interior designer. How to Become an Interior Designer in 5 Steps Step #1 - Get a Degree There are multiple paths to becoming an interior designer. You can get an associate degree or a bachelor's degree. Both will help you work towards becoming an interior designer. You may also find some colleges and universities offering self-paced interior design certificates. These may not take as long to complete, but the best path will be to get a college degree. You will likely study courses, such as computer-aided-design technology, design theory, business, construction, and communications. Then, with the right degree, you can enter into the interior design career field. Step #2 - Become Certified In some states, you will need a license to work as an interior designer. However, even in states where a license isn't necessary, it's helpful to become certified. The NCIDQ (National Council for Interior Design Qualification) exam is the most common option for certification. You will need two years of work experience and a bachelor's degree to sit for the exam. If you get an associate degree, you will need three years of work experience. The exam will be split into three sections: IDFX or Fundamentals IDPX or Professional PRAC or Practicum The exam will evaluate your understanding and experience with interior design. Once you pass the exam, you will become a certified interior designer. Step #3 - Complete an Internship You may complete an internship before becoming certified. As an intern, you can gain the necessary experience and start networking in this field. You can also take on small jobs for friends or relatives. This can help you to build your portfolio. If you plan to work for yourself, any small interior design job you can do will help. Step #4 - Create and Develop Your Portfolio Interior designers can get hired for freelance work without education or real qualifications with a great portfolio. The education certainly helps, and so does becoming certified, but your portfolio is vital to your career advancement. If you plan to work for yourself, you need an excellent portfolio. Even working for an employer will likely require a good portfolio to land the interview. Make sure you show off your designer's eye. Use sketches, mood boards, and images of completed projects to create a killer portfolio. If you have any projects showing off great use of light and color, these can be very helpful. Step #5 - Choose a Specialty Many interior designers will specialize in a specific area, such as working with historic properties. For example, you might specialize in residential or commercial interior design. It's also possible to specialize in many other areas, such as luxury homes or even restaurant spaces. Consider what you really enjoy designing before you specialize. Duties of an Interior Designer As an interior designer, you will likely handle many different duties. In some cases, you will work for yourself, so you will have the responsibilities of running a business, too. Some of the common duties of interior designers include: Creating design plans and budget estimates Working with clients to figure out their needs and desires Submitting drawings to building inspectors Choosing materials, lighting, finishes, and flooring Creating a timeline for each project Hiring architects and contractors Following up with the client and the workers to ensure the project stays on track Interior designers don't just design the interior space of a building. They often act as a project manager, as well. Most Common Skills Interior Designers Need to Have If you want to become an interior designer, you should have specific skills already. Some skills can be learned, and others can be honed. The most common skills you will need include: Negotiating - You will work with many vendors, especially if you run your own business, so negotiating will be a part of your job. Communication Skills - A big part of your job will be active listening and communicating with clients. You will be taking their ideas, style, and tastes and turning them into designs. Problem Solving - Often, as an interior designer, you will need to solve problems for your clients. Computer-aided-design technology skills - CAD (Computer-Aided-Design) will be a tool you will likely use often. Learning how to use it properly will give you a helpful skill for interior design. Bookkeeping - If you work for yourself, you will need to keep your books, also. Along with these skills, you will need to provide good customer service for your clients. Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming an Interior Designer How much do interior designers make? The average salary for an interior designer is nearly $60K per year. Your salary may range from about $15K to over $130K, however. It depends on your level of experience, the type of clients you work with, and your location. Working for yourself can lead to a higher salary each year. You will be able to choose the projects you take on and set your own rates. Which locations pay the most for interior designers? San Francisco is the highest-paying location for interior designers. The average salary in San Francisco is about $80K. New York City is next, with an average salary of nearly $77K. Columbus, Ohio, and Los Angeles also pay more than $70K per year, on average. How long will it take to become an interior designer? There are multiple paths into this career, so that the timeframe will vary a bit. It will take you at least two years, in most cases. If you pursue an associate degree, you will need to spend about two years in school. A bachelor's degree will take about four years to complete. However, if you plan to take the NCIDQ exam, you will need an additional three years of full-time work experience with an associate degree. A bachelor's degree will only require two years of work experience. Once you have the experience, you can take the exam and become a certified interior designer. It will take between five and six years to become a certified interior designer from start to finish. Which professional organizations should I consider joining? As an interior designer, there are several options for professional organizations. You can join the American Society of Interior Designers or the International Interior Design Association. There's also the Interior Design Society to consider. Along with interior design organizations, you might want to consider joining the U.S. Green Building Council, American Lighting Association, and The National Kitchen + Bath Association. Which colleges and universities offer the best interior design programs? There are many great schools for interior design available. The New York School of Interior Design is one of the best. You can also consider the Savanna College of Art and Design. They have a top program, as well. A few other top interior design schools include: Parsons School of Design Cornell University George Washington University Pratt Institute Rhode Island School of Design Many of these schools require high GPAs and good SAT or ACT scores. Make sure you understand the requirements when you're in high school to attend a top interior design school. What is the cost of an interior design school? The cost to attend interior design school will depend on your program and the college or university you choose. A two-year degree may cost around $21K per year. Some colleges offer much lower-cost programs, and others will cost quite a bit more. If you get a bachelor's degree, you will likely spend around $38,500 per year. It may cost anywhere from $20K to $100K to finish a master's degree in interior design. If you choose an in-state college, you will likely enjoy a lower tuition cost than an out-of-state school. Is the field of interior design growing? Yes. Interior design is expected to grow by about 4% over the next ten years. This is just below the average of all occupations. What will the work environment be like as an interior designer? You will likely balance your time between working at a desk and out in the field. For example, interior designers spend time meeting with clients, looking at the space they are designing, and coming up with sketches. Of course, it’s common to work with CAD software and other design programs, too. The hours can vary based on the needs of the client. Expect to meet with clients on weekends and evenings. You may also work more hours when trying to meet a tight deadline than normal.

How to Become an Interior Designer in 5 Steps

Step #1 – Get a Degree

There are multiple paths to becoming an interior designer. You can get an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree. Both will help you work towards becoming an interior designer.

You may also find some colleges and universities offering self-paced interior design certificates. These may not take as long to complete, but the best path will be to get a college degree.

You will likely study courses, such as computer-aided-design technology, design theory, business, construction, and communications. Then, with the right degree, you can enter into the interior design career field.

Step #2 – Become Certified

In some states, you will need a license to work as an interior designer. However, even in states where a license isn’t necessary, it’s helpful to become certified. The NCIDQ (National Council for Interior Design Qualification) exam is the most common option for certification.

You will need two years of work experience and a bachelor’s degree to sit for the exam. If you get an associate degree, you will need three years of work experience.

The exam will be split into three sections:

The exam will evaluate your understanding and experience with interior design. Once you pass the exam, you will become a certified interior designer.

Step #3 – Complete an Internship

You may complete an internship before becoming certified. As an intern, you can gain the necessary experience and start networking in this field. You can also take on small jobs for friends or relatives. This can help you to build your portfolio. If you plan to work for yourself, any small interior design job you can do will help.

Step #4 – Create and Develop Your Portfolio

Interior designers can get hired for freelance work without education or real qualifications with a great portfolio. The education certainly helps, and so does becoming certified, but your portfolio is vital to your career advancement.

If you plan to work for yourself, you need an excellent portfolio. Even working for an employer will likely require a good portfolio to land the interview.

Make sure you show off your designer’s eye. Use sketches, mood boards, and images of completed projects to create a killer portfolio. If you have any projects showing off great use of light and color, these can be very helpful.

Step #5 – Choose a Specialty

Many interior designers will specialize in a specific area, such as working with historic properties. For example, you might specialize in residential or commercial interior design. It’s also possible to specialize in many other areas, such as luxury homes or even restaurant spaces.

Consider what you really enjoy designing before you specialize.

Duties of an Interior Designer

As an interior designer, you will likely handle many different duties. In some cases, you will work for yourself, so you will have the responsibilities of running a business, too. Some of the common duties of interior designers include:

Interior designers don’t just design the interior space of a building. They often act as a project manager, as well.

Most Common Skills Interior Designers Need to Have

If you want to become an interior designer, you should have specific skills already. Some skills can be learned, and others can be honed. The most common skills you will need include:

Along with these skills, you will need to provide good customer service for your clients.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming an Interior Designer

How much do interior designers make?

The average salary for an interior designer is nearly $60K per year. Your salary may range from about $15K to over $130K, however. It depends on your level of experience, the type of clients you work with, and your location.

Working for yourself can lead to a higher salary each year. You will be able to choose the projects you take on and set your own rates.

Which locations pay the most for interior designers?

San Francisco is the highest-paying location for interior designers. The average salary in San Francisco is about $80K. New York City is next, with an average salary of nearly $77K. Columbus, Ohio, and Los Angeles also pay more than $70K per year, on average.

How long will it take to become an interior designer?

There are multiple paths into this career, so that the timeframe will vary a bit. It will take you at least two years, in most cases. If you pursue an associate degree, you will need to spend about two years in school. A bachelor’s degree will take about four years to complete.

However, if you plan to take the NCIDQ exam, you will need an additional three years of full-time work experience with an associate degree. A bachelor’s degree will only require two years of work experience. Once you have the experience, you can take the exam and become a certified interior designer.

It will take between five and six years to become a certified interior designer from start to finish.

Which professional organizations should I consider joining?

As an interior designer, there are several options for professional organizations. You can join the American Society of Interior Designers or the International Interior Design Association. There’s also the Interior Design Society to consider.

Along with interior design organizations, you might want to consider joining the U.S. Green Building Council, American Lighting Association, and The National Kitchen + Bath Association.

Which colleges and universities offer the best interior design programs?

There are many great schools for interior design available. The New York School of Interior Design is one of the best. You can also consider the Savanna College of Art and Design. They have a top program, as well.

A few other top interior design schools include:

Many of these schools require high GPAs and good SAT or ACT scores. Make sure you understand the requirements when you’re in high school to attend a top interior design school.

What is the cost of an interior design school?

The cost to attend interior design school will depend on your program and the college or university you choose. A two-year degree may cost around $21K per year. Some colleges offer much lower-cost programs, and others will cost quite a bit more.

If you get a bachelor’s degree, you will likely spend around $38,500 per year. It may cost anywhere from $20K to $100K to finish a master’s degree in interior design. If you choose an in-state college, you will likely enjoy a lower tuition cost than an out-of-state school.

Is the field of interior design growing?

Yes. Interior design is expected to grow by about 4% over the next ten years. This is just below the average of all occupations.

What will the work environment be like as an interior designer?

You will likely balance your time between working at a desk and out in the field. For example, interior designers spend time meeting with clients, looking at the space they are designing, and coming up with sketches. Of course, it’s common to work with CAD software and other design programs, too.

The hours can vary based on the needs of the client. Expect to meet with clients on weekends and evenings. You may also work more hours when trying to meet a tight deadline than normal.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path. I, personally, am the high school dropout son of two teacher parents. So how did I get here? That story takes more time. Coming soon!